Hand Lists – The Return

Three weeks ago, I wrote an interim report on the work I was doing to make Allardyce Nicoll’s Handlists more machine tractable. I didn’t actually spend all of the previous month correcting OCR errors, writing bits of XSLT to manipulate the OCRd text, figuring out what had gone wrong with my matching algorithm etc. It just feels that way.

Anyway, here’s a result:

This camembert shows how all the 25,000+ entries in the two Handlists are classified. The categories used (Drama, Farce, Panto, etc.) are ones I made up by grouping together the much finer-grained but trickier text types Nicoll provides (of which there are more than a hundred values) into the 15 basic classes you see above. More of that another day.

The size of each wedge is, as you might expect, proportionate to the number of entries so classified, and (reading anti-clockwise) they are in descending order. As I noted last month, the top six categories together account for three-quarters of the data.

I also said last month that my next mission would be to see how these proportions change over time. And indeed they do. Like this:

Each column here represents a decade for which the Handlists provide data, from 1810s on the left to 1890s on the right. Each column summarizes theatrical events recorded for that decade, using the same 15 crude classifications as the camembert. The size of each coloured blob is proportionate to the percentage of events in that decade classified in that way. For example, in the 1860s column, the pale blue blob is much bigger than any of the others, because nearly half (48.6% to be exact) of the available theatrical events that decade are classified as “Drama”. In the same decade, the pale green blob above it is smaller because “Farce” accounted for a smaller proportion (15%). I haven’t included the numbers in the graphic to make it easier to read, but they are available.

Note that all the blobs are stacked on top of each other in alphabetical order, so you can detect changes over time for a given category by reading from left to right. For example, a blue blob for “Panto” appears near the top (row 4) in each decade, demonstrating the this particular form of theatre formed part of each decades offerings, getting perhaps a little more popular as the century wears on, but never disappearing. Contrast that with “Melodrama” (the purple blobs in row seven) or “Burletta” (the dark yellow blobs near the bottom) both of which are flourishing in the decades before mid century, and almost entirely eclipsed thereafter.

Now, I am certainly not claiming to have discovered that melodrama and burletta were both seriously unfashionable from round about 1850 onwards, despite their earlier mode-ishness. But it is always satisfying (and reassuring) to find “common knowledge” backed up by actual observed data.

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